The Satire of GTA V

Welcome to a special edition of 8-Bit Philosophy, where video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more. This week – the Satire of GTA V, feat. Jared from Wisecrack.

The Satire of GTA V

Trevor Philips: the depraved psychopathic tweaker residing in sandy shores could easily foster a discussion on mental health and the war on drugs but the more pertinent and less mentioned element of Trevor is his relationship to violence, torture and the current state of gaming.

Michael De Santos, a retired bank robber in witness protection provides a conduit to discuss the clichéd California lifestyle—concerned with the economy, capitalism, personal fitness, the paparazzi, celebrity, and all forms of media.

Franklin, the commodification and appropriation of black culture and white-collar crime.

Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Narrated by: Jared Bauer

The Satire of GTA V

Hey everyone. This is Jared, creator of all things Wisecrack, and we’ve got another special episode for guys. Many people have called GTAV a satire, some have called it social commentary, and some have called it sarcasm. Which is it?

People tend to get sarcasm, irony, and satire mixed up. Its like squares and rectangles. You know, that thing “how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares”… or is it vice versa? Wow, we need a math channel.

Well, no game with more than thirty minutes of end credits will ever just be one thing. While there are plenty of arguments to be made about the classification or purpose of Grand Theft Auto V—our concern is with a reading of the game as a very long and sustained satire of contemporary American society. Welcome to this special episode on Social Commentary, satire, and parody in GTA5.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that the opening scene in Grand Theft Auto 5 takes place in a therapist’s office. The argument can be made that the main characters: Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, are all incarnations of Freud’s model of the unconscious. If the constantly whining Michael is the punishing superego and the cool-headed, fast driving Franklin is the ego… then Trevor’s desire to blow shit up, hump and kill everything make him the ideal fit for the ID… desire run amok.

Trevor Philips: the depraved psychopathic tweaker residing in sandy shores could easily foster a discussion on mental health and the war on drugs but the more pertinent and less mentioned element of Trevor is his relationship to violence, torture and the current state of gaming.

Trevor has no qualms smashing a biker in the face with a bottle and then stomping on his head till its mush, has no issues with eliminating an entire banker gang, kidnapping and seducing someone’s wife… basically he has zero fucks to give.

Trevor is, in a sense, the personification of the average GTA player, the shit talking crazy person people become in sandbox worlds. Trevor reflects the sociopathic behavior that most players exhibit when they play a GTA game. In this way, the game forces the viewer to confront the actual personification of their actions.

While most people might argue that the function of this franchise is catharsis, to act out in the virtual world and then go back to their peaceful existence, having fulfilled their impulse… it can be argued that the very deliberate psychotic nature of Trevor suggests something else—when presented with the choice to indulge in debauchery—to satiate their most violent urges—people tend to be pretty messed up. Trevor presents us with the more radical possibility—that deep down inside we are all violent sickos.

The terror (AND macabre pleasure) we derive from Trevor’s actions force us to confront this. Trevor essentially presents a meta-fictional element to the game. Traditionally defined as fiction about fiction, we would have to adjust our definition and wording to says something like Grand Theft Auto presents us with Meta-gaming, games about games.

It’s not only killing, robbing, and prostituting that this sandbox game allows you to do. It also enables you to do inane things like yoga (which is the most boring, pointless mini-game ever), tennis, bike riding, golf, darts, hunting, skydiving etc. But it would be a mistake to consider the ability to have these choices as arbitrary. If doing yoga mini games is boring, then why is massacring troves of people fun?

The game has received so much flack for supposedly “empowering” the gamer to random acts of violence. But in GTAV, the player is presented with viable, peaceful alternatives. Playing the yoga mini-game is just as viable as random drive-byes, yet people usually chose to bask in destruction and chaos. In that way, the game developers make a statement about how we project our OWN psyche and desire on to the game, and not the developers empowering us.

Nowhere is this clearer than the most controversial scene in GTA V—where Trevor tortures an informant for the FIB.

Not only does he Torture someone without batting an eye—he seems to take sick pleasure in the pain he inflects.

At one point Ferdinand Kerimov, the tortured Azerbaijani, screams “sadist” at the top of his lungs but the real question is: who is the real sadist? Trevor? Or the gamer who enjoys acting out their psychopathic urges on fictional characters?

Far from being a passive acceptance of torture—this scene serves to over-identify with the sadistic desire to inflict harm on the Oriental Other, or the threatening terrorist. Over identification is a loaded term that is best described a sort of radical re-production of what is deemed taboo—it is a tactic of performance that undermines power through mimicry.

By forcing the player to violently play out the very tactics of “advanced interrogation techniques”, it creates the possibility of provoking a strong reaction from the gamer—whether it be disgust, thereby subverting the ideology of the war on terror, or even sadistic enjoyment.

This is a form of satire. According to the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, Satire’s “goal is not to abuse so much as to provoke a response, ideally some kind of reform.”

It is easy to lampoon a character that wakes up in his underwear under a bridge covered in puke and blood and has no problem murdering an entire gang to take over their turf—but the more difficult thing to see is how Trevor’s explosion of the fourth wall creates a reflection for the gamer—that forces a confrontation with the gamer’s true psychic self and their actual feelings about gruesome violence.

Continuing on to part the second in which we interrogate Michael De Santos, the California life style, Parody, and the media.

Like Mel Brooks movies—the world of Los Santos is a somewhat askew representation of reality. In many ways Grand Theft Auto is a parody, or “a form of high burlesque… that imitates a specific literary work or style of an author for comic effect, usually to ridicule or criticize that work, author, or style… parody is often used to make a satiric (and even a political) point.”

Android phones are badger phones, apple is replaced by Ifruit, Fox news is weasel news (complete with a fictional news ticker), American Idol is Fame or Shame, the Mark Zukerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs of the world are personified as the amalgam Jay Norris, google maps is eyefind, and Facebook is lifeinvader.

Michael De Santos, a retired bank robber in witness protection provides a conduit to discuss the clichéd California lifestyle—concerned with the economy, capitalism, personal fitness, the paparazzi, celebrity, and all forms of media.

Michael is the only character that routinely watches TV and is enamored with old movies—a parody of the stereotypical Los Ageleano.

Like Mel Brooks movies—the world of Los Santos is a somewhat askew representation of reality. In many ways Grand Theft Auto is a parody, or “a form of high burlesque… that imitates a specific literary work or style of an author for comic effect, usually to ridicule or criticize that work, author, or style… parody is often used to make a satiric (and even a political) point.”

Android phones are badger phones, apple is replaced by Ifruit, Fox news is weasel news (complete with a fictional news ticker), American Idol is Fame or Shame, the Mark Zukerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs of the world are personified as the amalgam Jay Norris, google maps is eyefind, and Facebook is lifeinvader.

Michael’s wife is “enamored” with her tennis coach AND her yoga instructor, Michael one straps his backpack, listens to horrible music, his son has identity issues, his psychologist is utterly inept, cynical, and greedy (wait how is that different that most psychologists?), and his daughter messes around with porno dudes. Michael, like most snowbirds that navigate to California on permanent vacation, has Hollywood problems. Even his criticism is decidedly Californian.

Michael rails against capitalism but doesn’t risk anything—he’s still chasing the San Andrean dream. Much like a vegan driving a Prius—Michael is smug in his criticism of capitalism—but he still owns a yacht, a fancy house, tricked out cars, several giant televisions, a tennis court, pool, and a decent collection of snazzy cargo shorts with sandals ensembles. Michael doesn’t really challenge the underlying logic of consumption—he just sort of complains… like most people in Hollywood.

The setting of the game world itself is a tongue and cheek play on real California locations. Vespucci beach is Venice beach, Vinewood is Hollywood, Del Perro Pier is the Santa Monica Pier, the famous Watts towers are renamed the Jefferson towers, Compton is reimagined as Davis, long beach is cypress flats, the pacific palisades are renamed the pacific bluffs, Bel Air becomes Richman, or rich man and the Salton sea is renamed the Alamo sea—where the surrounding desert in GTA is the sandy shores—in reality the area is the hipster sands of the Coachella valley.

Grand theft Auto 5 goes to ridiculous lengths to insure verisimilitude—the amount of hours and labor spent to create such an enormous, living breathing environment is outstanding. The attempt to create a world that seems real to the player is commendable, but perhaps at times it is a little too real.

To the point that Linday Lohan has sued Rockstar over the use of her likeness for the creation of the character Lacey Jonas a former child star who has exiled her parents and is constantly mobbed by the paparazzi.

GTA V presents an all out criticism of our media driven world—all forms Radio, TV, and film and social media are fair game. Some of the most stinging criticisms come when you’re driving from place to place listening to talk radio.

The gaming and tech industries aren’t exempt either. Jimmy plays a strange game where you slaughter pigs, Michael infiltrates the lifeinvader campus to find coders unable to close copious NSFW pop ups and run simple antivirus software, and Lester is constantly shouting while he undoubtedly teabags the people he “domes” in his first person shooter. Lester even goes so far as to complain that all FPS games are the same—interesting how the reboot of GTA4 allows for first person point of view—that’s irony.

If Trevor serves as a way to criticize the ever encroaching onslaught of drugs and violence in media—Michael is perhaps the most cynical character—Michael’s storyline digs at the ennui inherent in the shallow upper class California lifestyle—of a lifestyle built around appearances—a world of plastic surgery, self help, leisure, and misery.

Our third section, in which we discuss Franklin, the commodification and appropriation of black culture and white-collar crime.

Franklin Clinton, an ambitious youth from South Los Santos serves as a sort of catalyst for the game. Franklin’s repossession of Jimmy’s vehicle is the precipitating event that brings Michael out of retirement.

But it is Franklin’s role in the market that serves as the critical starting point for our discussion. When Lester asks Franklin to make ummm err… moves to insure the manipulation of the stock market an interesting contrast is made.

No matter how many people disappear, no matter how suspicious the deaths may be, no matter how much money is made betting on the stock market, no one is ever sent to jail. You literally cannot get caught for insider trading in GTAV.

Which is funny given Franklin’s hatred of pyramid schemes.

If GTA is a satire of our contemporary condition is it any wonder that the people that make millions and billions of dollars dubiously rarely ever see the inside of a jail cell?

While economic corruption may be something that goes unpunished, it doesn’t mean the police aren’t out in force. The lack of effort to capture white-collar criminals is contrasted with the real violence that people deal with in the inner city, whether it be criminal in nature or violence from the police—the LSPD’s motto is literally “Obey and Survive.”

The LSPD are a caricature of the LAPD whose history of race relations is well… stellar. See what I did there? That’s sarcasm.

Complicated relations with race are explored with Franklin—each character that isn’t a person of color adapts their own version of street vernacular when they interact with Franklin.

Trevor, Jimmy, and Devin all change the way they speak when they interact with Franklin.

Jimmy serves as a sort of foil to Franklin—as a sort of way to prove his authentic blackness—Jimmy merely wears blackness like a mask—while he isn’t in black face—its pretty close.

The game does it’s best to assure us that Franklin is authentic. Unlike Michael—whenever he smokes weed from the Marijuana Lobbyist he doesn’t see aliens like Michael does—he merely shrugs it off——we are led to believe that Franklin is authentic because the lobbyist has weak shit compared to the chronic that Franklin smokes on the reg.

Appropriation of Black culture is an important discussion. In the end Jimmy can act black whenever he wants but he doesn’t have to deal with any of the daily realities of being a person of color in America—not unlike the player who gets to pick up the controller and play an original gangsta whenever they flip over to Franklin.

This is much deeper than it seems. The player is allowed distance from the racial politics of GTA. They believe themselves to be part of the solution and not the problem—they aren’t acting like jizzle. They aren’t overtly racists—they aren’t a white kids with dreadlocks.

What GTA V confronts is the desire for a guilt free solution to racism by asking the player to laugh at white people awkwardly attempting to pass as black—while they literally control a stereotypical shadow of a black male.

Which is pretty ironic given the number of white kids in the suburbs feeling smug because they know they aren’t jizzle— at least, they think they aren’t. They may not have the poser swag and stupid name, but they do get to participate in drive byes, get in gang wars, and smoke weed—all the while believing Franklin to be an accurate depiction of an authentic black male. Just as Jizzle lives vicariously through Franklin and the vitality of “black culture,” GTAV self reflexively makes the audience experience the very same gratification, it makes a more interesting statement on racial politics than just shaming old people and pointing fingers.

To say that GTA V can just be reduced to a game about stealing cars and blowing ups stuff is perhaps a mistake… I mean, it is about so much more—like strip clubs, drug deals, and turf wars.

Sure it’s possible to focus on the sensational aspects of the game but to believe the game as an unfolding series of events that un-problematically glorifies sex, violence, and drug use is to choose be on the outside of a long string of inside jokes.

To paraphrase a popular song about missing the point—you would be the type of person who “likes to sing along and shoot their gun, but you wouldn’t know what it means.

Michael, Trevor, and Franklin all serve to destabilize the players ability to believe in the validity and seriousness of the world that they play in.

Grand Theft Auto is less an opportunity to indulge in debauchery and is more like a mirror that shows America its true nature… Perhaps the writers aren’t vindictive sadists that profit off suffering, but rather, are craftsmen that use the supposed glorification of sex, violence, and torture to create a masterful criticism of American culture.

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The Philosophy of Get Schwifty (Rick and Morty) – Wisecrack Edition

South Park’s Must-Know References! – Wisecrack Edition

South Park’s Must-Know References! – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Fallout 4 – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Fallout 4 – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Darth Vader – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Darth Vader – Wisecrack Edition

Rick & Morty’s Must-Know References! – Wisecrack Edition

Rick & Morty’s Must-Know References! – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of The Purge (with Rick & Morty!) – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of The Purge (with Rick & Morty!) – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of BoJack Horseman – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of BoJack Horseman – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Shia LaBeouf – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Shia LaBeouf – Wisecrack Edition

Mr. Robot: The Essential Cinematic Inspirations – Wisecrack Edition

Mr. Robot: The Essential Cinematic Inspirations – Wisecrack Edition

Is Zootopia RACIST!? – Wisecrack Edition

Is Zootopia RACIST!? – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Kanye West – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Kanye West – Wisecrack Edition

South Park on RELIGION – Wisecrack Edition

South Park on RELIGION – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of The Joker – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of The Joker – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Star Trek – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Star Trek – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Marvel’s Daredevil – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Marvel’s Daredevil – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Bill Murray – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Bill Murray – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Deadpool – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of Deadpool – Wisecrack Edition

Game of Thrones: Get Ready to DIE! – Wisecrack Edition

Game of Thrones: Get Ready to DIE! – Wisecrack Edition

Are Video Games RUINING Gaming? – Wisecrack Edition

Are Video Games RUINING Gaming? – Wisecrack Edition

The Philosophy of South Park

The Philosophy of South Park

Inside Out: Is Joy the VILLAIN?

Inside Out: Is Joy the VILLAIN?

The Philosophy of Dark Souls

The Philosophy of Dark Souls

The Psychology of Final Fantasy (VI thru XIII)

The Psychology of Final Fantasy (VI thru XIII)

The Philosophy of House of Cards

The Philosophy of House of Cards

The Philosophy of The Walking Dead

The Philosophy of The Walking Dead

The Brilliant Deception of Inception

The Brilliant Deception of Inception

The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

The Philosophy of Rick and Morty

The Philosophy of Fallout

The Philosophy of Fallout

The Hidden Meaning of <br />Halo

The Hidden Meaning of
Halo

The Genius of <br />Michael Jackson’s Thriller

The Genius of
Michael Jackson’s Thriller

The Hidden Messages in GTA V (Grand Theft Auto V)

The Hidden Messages in GTA V (Grand Theft Auto V)

The Philosophy of Bioshock

The Philosophy of Bioshock